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October 18, 2008

Tech, G.P.: Make car-buying experience better

If someone were to do a survey to find what were the things that people dreaded doing the most, I know a couple that would certainly be right near the top.

Going to the dentist would probably be No. 1.

I should qualify that with a big ``except for my dentist, Don," who, by the way, is my next-door neighbor. His patients actually like going to him, of course.

But what would be No. 2 on that list?

I think there would be a good chance that, for some people, it could be visiting car dealers to shop for a car.

It's funny, I guess, that while Americans have always been so in love with their cars, so many of them hate going to a dealer to shop for one. Not everyone, of course, feels this way, but a good many people feel intimidated when they go car shopping.

In reality, I think people really do like looking at and for a new car. What they don't like is dealing with the sales tactics generally encountered at the dealerships.

I doubt if the adjective ``pushy'' was in the dictionary before there were car salespeople. If you've been through the process, you know what I mean.

Anyway, why am I bringing all this depressing stuff up? Because there is a way to mitigate the unpleasantness of car shopping.

Use the Internet to shop. As much as you can. It's not pushy.

My daughter recently went through her first car-buying experience. She's had a car before, but I did the buying on that one. After all, she was in high school.

But now she's out on her own, more or less, and the old car had certainly paid its dues.

It was time.

I was flattered that she asked me if I would help her shop for a car, and, of course, I said I would. But, as it turned out, there was really little that I actually did except give her some moral support and offer a little of my extremely sage advice.

In general, she knew what she wanted. We visited a couple dealerships that sold the brands she wanted, and came to the realization that what she really wanted wasn't in her ballpark financially.

So, it was back to the proverbial drawing board.

She re-evaluated her goal and decided to look at a less-pricey brand.

A test drive at a local dealer convinced her that the particular model would fit her needs, but the asking price still seemed pretty dear for the age and mileage.

Being of the "younger" generation, she automatically gravitated toward the Internet. Now she visited all kinds of manufacturer websites, and local (and not-so-local) dealer websites, too. She was doing her homework. Made me proud, actually.

Using the dealer and other websites, and her selection criteria and price range, she narrowed her selection down to a couple particular cars that dealers showed in their online inventories.

Remember now, all this shopping was done in the comfort of a computer chair, and was sans-salesperson-intervention, to coin a new term.

Another way of putting it would be that there was less likelihood of being talked into something she didn't really want to do.

So we went in search of the desired vehicle at a dealership a few towns away. When we got there, the car she was interested in wasn't there. Upon further investigation, it was found that it had been sold the previous week. Thanks for keeping your online inventory current, guys. Lazy is as lazy does, I guess. Scratch those guys off the list.

Another lesson learned: Call first.

So she did. The next car she was interested in was substantially farther away, and after checking, it was actually there, too.

We made the trip, the car looked very nice, it passed the test drive exam with flying colors, and we both thought the price was very fair. So she bought it.

Now, on this trip there was no wasted time looking at several cars; she knew exactly which one she was interested in. The price was thousands less than the local dealer wanted, and it was advertised on the website, so the salesperson's only chance at squeezing more money out of her was trying to sell an extended warranty. She didn't get squeezed.

But she did drive home in the car.

The moral of the story? There are a lot of good used cars out there, but you have to find them. If you use the Internet to search for them before you buy, you'll be that much more likely to find a better deal on what you want, more quickly.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at